Best Neighborhood Bar (South)

Venice Café

The Anheuser-Busch brewery is one minute away and worlds apart from the Venice Café, surely the most colorful bar in St. Louis. Don't expect the A-B posters and neon beer signs that are ubiquitous at most of this town's corner bars. Decorated with bottle caps, license plates, dolls and abstract mosaics, the Venice doesn't need the advertising. A quintessential local secret, the bar isn't even listed in the phone book. But ask any St. Louisan who has been around for a few years about "that bar with all the crazy decorations," and odds are you'll be directed to the Venice. Offering an eclectic range of live music on the weekends, the Venice is one of those tweener places: a destination for in-the-know folks throughout the city and an oasis for locals within walking distance who appreciate the chance to hang in a joint that's as comfortable as their own abodes. Maybe less comfortable. After all, the beer garden features a Third World-style squat toilet sans toilet paper (there are, however, alternative facilities with modern plumbing decorated with stained glass and tile mosaics). There'll be no need to squat if you eat here. The menu features Jamaican dishes such as fried plantains, jerk chicken and perhaps the best rice-and-beans in the city -- all simple dishes, cooked well and served on paper plates with plastic forks. The food is, however, just the icing. The reggae music is straight from the islands, the prices are reasonable and there's no more relaxing place to sip a Red Stripe and let the world go by.
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